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10 Week Old Australian Oil Rig Leak in Timor Sea is Plugged, Fire Finally Out

SYDNEY, Nov. 4 (UPI) — The operator of an oil rig in the Timor Sea announced Tuesday it plugged the leak that had been spewing oil for 10 weeks and brought under control a massive fire that had been burning since Sunday.

Since Aug. 21 up to 400 barrels of oil leaked daily from PTTEP Australasia’s Montara wellhead off the coast of West Australia. The Australian Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism had said it could have been leaking as much as 2,000 barrels a day. It took engineers four attempts to plug the leak.

“We are relieved and thankful that we have killed the well and stopped the main fire,” PTTEP Australasia Chief Financial Officer Jose Martins said in a statement.

“We do not underestimate the significantly increased technical complexity, logistical challenges and hazards of the work now required in the wake of the damage caused by the fire to the wellhead platform and to the West Atlas rig,” Martins said.

The fire broke out Sunday on the West Atlas rig and Montara wellhead platform during an attempt to plug the oil well with heavy mud.

Martins said the cleanup should be carried out quickly. “I suspect a couple of months is what we are … anticipating,” he told Australian Broadcasting Corp. However, he said, “the environmental plan really could take up to seven years.”

Martins said he expected an insurance claim to recover costs of the incident to be “much higher” than the $170 million it had cost PTTEP so far, to factor costs of the rig fire. The cleanup has cost the company about $5 million till now, Martins said, and that figure could rise.

According to ABC, Martins said PTTEP already knows what caused the blaze. “There’s a range of causes but we’re not going to go into that,” he said.

Environmentalists are calling for an in-depth inquiry into the leak and fire.

With more than 28,000 barrels of toxic oil and condensate released into the Timor Sea off the Kimberley coast since the leak began, the situation now demands absolute transparency and the full attention of the highest levels of government, said WWF in a statement.

“The inquiry must have the scope to look at what the real issues are here and to what extent the region is at risk of similar events in the future. Until we have learnt what went wrong here, the government should not approve further developments in such sensitive, vulnerable and pristine tropical marine habitats,” said WWF Australia conservation director Dr. Gilly Llewellyn, a marine biologist.

On Oct. 23, while oil was still leaking from PTTEP’s West Atlas rig, the company took control of five new exploration licenses, giving it access to an additional 571 square miles of Australian waters near the West Atlas.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Causes, Conservation, Energy, Energy & Fuels0 Comments

San Diego County Residents Deal with Large Swarms of Gnats

SAN DIEGO, Nov. 4 (UPI) — Residents of San Diego County are in a pitched battle with gnats — an enemy that makes up for its small size with sheer numbers, authorities say.

The problem began in Jacumba, a small town on the U.S.-Mexico border, where swarming gnats have irritated residents for years. They put the blame on an organic lettuce farm near the town, and a county study confirmed it.

The problem has spread to other towns in the county. Farms and the presence of rivers and lakes in the areas are the suspected causes, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported Wednesday.

“It may be associated with the drought or a type of agriculture, but there are more gnats this year in general in all areas,” Jim Bethke, a University of California researcher said.

A new $50,000 study by the country will attempt to pinpoint the origins of the gnats and seek a remedy, the Union-Tribune said.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Animals, Causes, Drought, Other0 Comments

Timor Sea Oil Leak Likely Spilling Faster

CANBERRA, Australia, Oct. 26 (UPI) — Oil leaking into the Timor Sea from the Montara rig could be five times faster than previously thought.

The spill began Aug. 21 after an accident on PTTEP Australasia’s offshore rig nearly 100 miles off the remote Western Australian coast, known for its rich marine environment.

PTTEP estimates that between 300 and 400 barrels of oil a day is pouring into the ocean, but the Australian Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism said Thursday it could be as much as 2,000 barrels a day. Conservationists estimate that the oil is covering an area of at least 5,800 square miles.

A fourth attempt to intercept the leak has been unsuccessful and is now planned for Tuesday. When the accident occurred, PTTEP had estimated it would take 50 days to plug the leak, 1.6 miles below the seabed.

Australia’s federal environment minister, Peter Garrett, said he was confident everything possible was being done to stop the oil leak.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said that the cost of the cleanup had reached more than $5 million. PTTEP has agreed to meet the costs.

The opposition’s spokesman for environment Greg Hunt called for the government to bring in international experts to deal with the situation.

“It’s been nine and a half weeks of complacency, nine and a half weeks of belching oil and nine and a half weeks of continued failure,” Hunt told the Australian Broadcasting System. He said the spill is a marine disaster of epic proportions and the federal government is “ignoring it”.

“It’s an out of sight out of mind philosophy. If this spill were occurring off the coast of Sydney or Melbourne the federal government would be up in arms,” Hunt said.

Following a three-day expedition through the polluted waters, WWF Director of Conservation Gilly Llewellyn said, “There were times when we were literally in a sea of oil from left to right and as far as we could see ahead of us — it was heavily oiled water and it was sickening because in this we were seeing dolphins surfacing.”

Llewellyn stressed that, based on previous oil disasters, the damage from Montara will be long lasting. “We know that oil can be a slow and silent killer. Impacts from the Exxon Valdez disaster are still being seen 20 years later, so we can expect this environmental disaster will continue to unfold for years to come,” she said.

Meanwhile, on Friday PTTEP took control of five new exploration licenses, giving PTTEP access to an additional 571 square miles of Australian waters near the leaking Montara rig. Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson and Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board supported the $11 million purchase of new oil assets.

Australian Marine Conservation Society spokesman Darren Kindleysides said PTTEP’s track record should have been considered before access was granted to new oil fields.

“Clearly PTTEP’s track record has been pretty shabby in recent months,” Kindleysides said, The Age reports. “Major questions still hang unanswered over why this spill happened and why it hasn’t been plugged yet.”

Despite concerns about the impact of the two-month oil leak, the Australian government stressed that the company would be “treated the same as any other company.”

“PTTEP is a major international oil company with strong technical capability and financial capacity,” said government spokesman Michael Bradley.

“The causes of the Montara well leak are unknown at this stage. … PTTEP will continue to be treated by government on a non-discriminatory basis in its activities and operations here in Australia,” Bradley said.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Causes, Conservation, Energy, Other, Philosophy, Pollution & Toxins0 Comments

Foam Algae Killing Thousands of Sea Birds Along Washington & Oregon Coasts

LONG BEACH, Wash., Oct. 23 (UPI) — Foam from an unusual algae bloom has killed thousands of birds along the Oregon and Washington coasts in recent weeks, marine biologists said.

Akashiwo sanguinea, a single-cell algae or phytoplankton, strips the birds of their natural waterproofing, said Julia Parrish, a marine biologist and professor at Washington State University.

“It’s the largest mortality event of its kind on the West Coast that we know of,” Parrish told The (Portland) Oregonian in a story published Friday. “We’re getting counts of up to a million cells per liter of water,” she said. “Think about that. That’s pretty dense.”

Storms have whipped the algae into a substance similar to a sticky soap, which washes off the birds’ protective waterproofing oils and causes them to die of hypothermia, said Greg Schirato, a manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The bloom, which poses no threat to people or pets, has killed thousands of birds since mid-September from northern Oregon to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, Schirato said.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Animals, Birds, Causes, Fish, People0 Comments

U.S. Study Suggests that Arctic Climate Changes are Caused by Humans

BOULDER, Colo., Oct. 22 (UPI) — A U.S. study of a 200,000-year-old sediment core from an arctic lake indicates ongoing biological and chemical changes are likely caused by human activities.

The University of Colorado-Boulder-led study shows that while environmental changes at the Baffin Island lake during the past millennia have been tightly linked with natural causes of climate change — like periodic wobbles in the Earth’s orbit — changes seen in the sediment cores since about 1950 indicate expected climate cooling is being overridden by results of human activity, such as greenhouse gas emissions.

“The past few decades have been unique in the past 200,000 years in terms of the changes we see in the biology and chemistry recorded in the cores,” said lead study Yarrow Axford of the university’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research. “We see clear evidence for warming in one of the most remote places on Earth at a time when the arctic should be cooling because of natural processes.”

The study that included researchers from the State University of New York, the University at Buffalo, the University of Alberta, the University of Massachusetts and Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Causes, Global Warming & Climate Change0 Comments

Wildlife Carrying Bacteria May Cause Livestock Infections

PENICUIK, Scotland, Oct. 7 (UPI) — Scottish scientists say a bacterium possibly linked to Crohn’s disease could be lurking in wild animals, supporting theories of wildlife infection reservoirs.

A research team led by Karen Stevenson of the Moredun Research Institute in Scotland used three genotyping techniques to identify specific strains of the Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis in 164 samples taken from 19 livestock and wildlife species from the Czech Republic, Finland, Greece, the Netherlands, Norway, Scotland and Spain.

According to the study to be published in the journal BMC Microbiology, the results were combined to investigate sources of such infections and show the possibility of transmission between wildlife and domestic ruminants.

“Identical genotypes were obtained from … different host species co-habiting on the same property, strongly suggesting that inter-species transmission occurs,” the researchers said, noting the bacteria infects a variety of wildlife and host species that potentially could be reservoirs for infection of domestic livestock and have serious implications for infection control.

Related to the bacterium causing tuberculosis in humans and in cows, Mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis causes severe diarrhea in ruminants, and has been suggested as a possible cause for Crohn’s disease in humans.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Animals, Causes0 Comments

When Global Warming Bleaches Coral, Coral Disease Increases

MIAMI, Oct. 6 (UPI) — A U.S. study has found coral bleaching increases the chances of coral disease, which in turn, can exacerbate coral bleaching.

Coral bleaching occurs when colorful algae living inside each coral polyp die or leave the polyps due to global warming. Scientists say they’ve discovered bleaching can make corals more susceptible to disease and, in turn, coral disease can exacerbate the negative effects of bleaching. The study also shows that when disease and bleaching occur together, the combination of afflictions causes greater harm to the corals than either does by itself.

“Traditionally, scientists have attributed coral declines after mass bleaching events to the bleaching only,” said Marilyn Brandt, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Miami and the study’s lead author. “This study shows that the interplay between diseases and bleaching can play a much larger role than we realized.”

The corals rely on the algae to provide nutrients and supplemental oxygen. Without their brightly colored algae, the coral’s skeleton becomes visible through its transparent tissue, making it appear white, or bleached. Although the tissue remains intact and can recover over time, the condition can cause corals to stop growing and reproducing.

The research is reported in the journal Ecology.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Causes, Effects Of Air Pollution0 Comments

Truce Lifts Hope for Nigeria's Citizens; Five Year Oil War May End Soon

LAGOS, Nigeria, Oct. 2 (UPI) — Hopes were raised Friday that the end of a five-year conflict that has ravaged one of Africa’s largest oil industries may be in sight after a senior rebel chieftain made a last-minute acceptance of a government amnesty.

At least two other key leaders of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, a coalition of tribal factions demanding a greater share of Nigeria’s oil wealth for the impoverished tribes of the delta, have yet to take up the amnesty that is due to expire Sunday.

But the formal acceptance of the amnesty by Tom Ateke, leader of one of MEND’s main groups, the Niger Delta Vigilante, is widely seen as a significant breakthrough for President Umaru Yar’Adua, who launched the amnesty Aug. 15.

Ateke’s acceptance of an unconditional pardon came only a few days after one of China’s top three oil companies was reported to be negotiating a massive investment deal with Yar’Adua’s government.

The China National Offshore Oil Corp. wants to buy up one-sixth of Nigeria’s known oil reserves, currently owned or operated by western oil giants, for a reputed $30 billion to $50 billion.

Ateke has operated independently of MEND for much of the time, but he has led anti-government action for more than a decade and is popular in the region.

His group is also heavily involved in large-scale theft of which is smuggled into the international market.

But at least two other top insurgent commanders have not yet accepted the amnesty, and until they do the violence is likely to continue despite the likely renewal of large-scale military operations.

The holdouts are Farah Dagogo of the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force, active since 2006, and Government Ekpemupolo, universally known by his nom de guerre of “Tompolo,” of the Federated Niger Delta Ijaw Communities. The Ijaw is the main tribal confederation in the delta.

Bringing the conflict to a close would restore an oil industry that has been badly hit by the violence centered in the oil-rich delta that provides 90 percent of the state’s revenues.

Nigeria’s oil production, largely in the hands of international oil giants such as Chevron of the United States, Total of France and the Anglo-Dutch Shell company, has been reduced by one-third since 2006.

At the same time, oil theft has become a multibillion-dollar industry in the delta, the center of Nigeria’s energy industry.

On Tuesday, MEND, which had called a 60-day truce on July 15 and extended it by a month after the government amnesty was declared, named a team of mediators who would negotiate with the federal government once the amnesty expires.

Mend said in a communique that the team would “have our mandate to oversee a transparent and proper MEND disarmament process that conforms with international standards as the current disarmament process is flawed and lacks integrity.”

It accused the government in Abuja, Nigeria’s administrative capital, of not showing “willingness to conduct a dialogue, preferring instead to make wild unrealistic threats, purchase more useless military hardware and dole out bribes to traitors to our noble cause.”

However, MEND leader Henry Okah has said that attacks on oil installations would continue once the amnesty expires because the root causes of the violence have yet to be addressed.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Causes, Energy & Fuels, Energy Industry, Military, Other0 Comments

Predator Loss Causes Major Disruption in Animal Kingdom and Ecosystems

CORVALLIS, Ore., Oct. 2 (UPI) — The global decline of apex predators, such as wolves, lions and sharks, has led to a destructive surge in smaller mesopredators, scientists in Oregon said.

The mesopredators are causing major economic and ecological disruption in oceans, forests, rivers and grasslands worldwide, scientists at Oregonian State University said in a release.

For example, lion and leopard populations decimated by humans spawned an increase in baboons, which terrorize people and raid valuable farm crops in Sub-Saharan Africa, William Ripple, a university professor of forest ecosystems said.

The decline of sharks from overfishing has led to an explosion in the populations of rays, which in turn causes the collapse of other fish populations, Ripple said. The elimination of wolves often leads to a surge in the number of coyotes that attack pronghorn antelope and domestic sheep, he said.

“These problems resist simple solutions,” Ripple said. “We are just barely beginning to appreciate the impact of losing our top predators.”

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Animals, Causes, Fish, Other0 Comments

Ukraine Seeks New Natural Gas Suppliers in Central Asia

KIEV, Ukraine, Sept. 24 (UPI) — A top Ukrainian official said Ukraine should review its existing natural gas contract with Russia in order to purchase natural gas from Central Asia.

Izvestia reported Thursday that Bogdan Sokolovsky, Ukrainian presidential representative for international energy security issues, said that in his opinion, the Cabinet of Ministers should resolve the issue of transporting Turkmenistan natural gas bound for Ukraine via Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Russia.

Ukraine currently imports all of its natural gas from Russia, and in the last several years has been involved in pricing disputes with Moscow.

Urging his colleagues to look beyond the present arrangement to diversify Ukraine’s natural gas supplies Sokolovsky said, “Russia and Ukraine have the intergovernmental agreement of Oct. 4, 2001, which includes an item on transit of Russia’s gas via Ukraine. This document is effective in the period up to 2013,” an arrangement which he said causes “discomfort” for Ukraine as it constrains its supply options.

Europe is closely following the discussions, as the Russian cutoffs of gas last January led to shortages beyond Ukraine in Eastern Europe.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Causes, Energy & Fuels, Natural Gas, Other0 Comments

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